WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT CANADA'S MIGUASHA NATIONAL PARK?

Canada's Miguasha National Park is a treasure trove of natural history, as it holds within  it priceless fossils that educate us about what was in the world millions of years ago.

Spanning more than 215 acres, the Miguasha National Park is located on the southern coast of the Gaspe peninsula in Quebec, Canada. Unlike most parks around the world, this Park is not popular for its animals, plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, or marine creatures living today. However, it is an extremely important region to trace the history of the planet's wildlife as we know it, thanks to the fossils in this area.

On the shore of the peninsula are remarkably well-preserved fossil beds from the Devonian period (see box), from millions of years ago. From vertebrates and invertebrates (such as lobe-finned fishes) to plants, algae, and several microorganisms, the astonishing biodiversity of these fossils offers scientists much more than just a glimpse of Devonian life. Even though there are more than 50 Devonian period fossil sites across the globe, "none matches Miguasha in abundance of specimens, quality of fossil preservation and representation of evolutionary events for vertebrates".

Discovered in 1842, the site has been of great scientific interest and significance the world over, and fossil specimens from the location were sent to museums and universities for studies. In 1999, the Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is considered "the world's most outstanding illustration of the Devonian Period".

Past  forward

The most important contribution of the Miguasha National Park to the study of evolution is through the largest number of and best-preserved fossil specimens of the lobe-finned fish that gave rise to the first four-legged. air-breathing, terrestrial vertebrates the tetrapods

Among the fossils that made Miguasha popular are 21 species of fish fossils. And the most significant among them? The Eusthenopteron foordi- the extinct lobe-finned fish fossil. It is this creature's "limblike fins and two-way gills-and-lungs respiratory system that led to the present understanding of evolution from fish to four-limbed, land-dwelling vertebrates". And not surprisingly, this specimen has been named "the Prince of Miguasha"!

Good news but...

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the conservation outlook for this site has been assessed as "good" in the latest assessment cycle (2020).

In fact rigorous and continuous fieldwork and research initiatives have resulted in the discovery of new fossils and resultant inferences on how Devonian fishes and tetrapods evolved over a period of time. Though fossil sites have the potential to be disturbed or damaged by human activity, this site is "secure and well protected". "Overall site management and protection can be rated as mostly or highly effective."

In addition to the research initiatives. the educational outreach programmes and "interpretive facilities for visitors" too have been impressive enough to create awareness.

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WHY DO FIREFLIES GLOW AND BLINK?

Apparently, there are over 2,000 species of fireflies, also known as lightning bugs. They emit tiny flashes of light in the dark, which is what gives them their names. However, the latter part of their names is misleading - they are neither flies nor bugs. So, what are they, and why do they emit light?

Fireflies are basically beetles, and most of them have wings. Inhabiting humid areas in Asia and the Americas, the (adult) insects invariably feed on nectar and plant pollen. The larvae of these beetles feed on worms, snails, and insects. These omnivores have a lifespan of about two months, and grow up to be about an inch.

Fireflies have organs under their abdomens that absorb Oxygen. This oxygen mixes with a compound called luciferin, present in the organism. This results in the light that appears at the ends of their abdomen.

So, what is the purpose of this light? The light they emit is used as a means to communicate with other fireflies, and also to find a mate. It is interesting to note that the light-emitting patterns among different firefly species are unique. Despite attracting attention to themselves with their light, fireflies are largely safe from birds or other creatures. This is because fireflies "release drops of toxic, foul-tasting blood". Also, their "flashing is a warning light to predators to stay away". It is said that these "dazzling beetles are disappearing from long-established habitats".

Though they are not in grave danger right now, factors such as habitat loss, pesticides, night-time lights, water and air pollution, etc. may affect them in the long run.

Did you know?

Though both fireflies and glow worms are bioluminescent (emitting light), they are different. Just like fireflies aren't flies at all, glow worms aren't worms either. Glow worms are actually the larvae of a mosquito-like fly.

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HOW DID GOLD GET HERE ON EARTH?

Have you ever wondered where precious metals like gold come from? Or how they became embedded in the deep crevices of our planet?

A gift from the stars

Gold is extraterrestrial. This means instead of arising from our planet's rocky terrain, this metal was actually created in space. Its presence on the Earth is a consequence of the cataclysmic explosions called supernovae. This powerful and luminous explosion occurs towards the end of a star's life.

Supernova

Matter is made up of atoms. These atoms consist of subatomic particles like protons (positively charged particles), electrons (which have a negative charge) and neutrons (neutral particles that form the centre of an atom). The region of an atom that accommodates neutrons is called a nucleus.

When two or more atoms' nuclei (plural of nucleus) merge to form a heavier atom, a large amount of energy is dissipated into the surrounding. This process is known as nuclear fusion.

Stars are mostly made up of hydrogen, which is the simplest and the lightest of all the elements. With time, the enormous gravitational pressure of so much material compresses and triggers nuclear fusion in a star's core.

The energy released due to this fusion is the reason why stars shine. Over millions of years, this fusion transforms hydrogen into heavier elements like helium, carbon, and oxygen. These heavier elements burn faster and faster to make iron and nickel.

Towards the last phase of a stars life, this fusion is unable to release enough energy, and the pressure from the core forces the outer layers of the heavenly body to collapse into the centre. This sudden injection of energy results in the explosion of the star or a supernova.

The pressure of this explosion is so high that it forces various subatomic particles to fuse and form neutrons. These neutrons are then captured and combined by the residual heavy metals from the star. This leads to the formation of heavier elements like gold, silver, lead and even uranium. The formation of heavy metals in a supernova takes place within seconds.

The remnants of supernova

The expanding shock wave from the explosion propels the remnants through space. The supernova debris enriches the space clouds and condenses to form new planets and stars.

Researchers have found that Earth's reserve of gold is most likely a direct consequence of this phenomenon. This would mean that the cosmic cloud that condensed to form our planet had gold particles, which were then kneaded into the planet's crust due to the movement of the tectonic plates and other Geo-thermal activities.

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WHAT IS TOMATO FLUE?

According to reports, "tomato flu" is detected in children in Tamil Nadu's neighbouring State, Kerala. In a bid to stop the mysterious flu from spreading to Tamil Nadu, a medical team is carrying out tests on those entering Coimbatore for fever, rashes and other illness at Walayar checkpost on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border. But what is this new flu and what are its symptoms? Let's find out.

Over 80 children below five years of age in Kollam district in Kerala are suffering from what is called "tomato flu", an unidentified fever. What is of concern is that the number from this rare viral infection is predicted to go up.

Symptoms

Infected children experience skin irritation, and develop huge red blisters on different parts of the body, and hence the name "tomato flu." They feel dehydrated and run a high temperature. It is said that the symptoms of the tomato flu are very much like in a chikungunya infection.

Besides a high fever, skin irritation and blisters, the symptoms of the tomato flu include fatigue, body ache, swelling in joints, coughing, sneezing, and runny nose. Some children reportedly experience abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea. With the cause of the fever still not known, parents should exercise caution. As of now, there is no specific medicine to treat this fever.

WHEN IN DOUBT ABOUT THE INFECTION...

*Consult a doctor immediately if you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms.

*Drink a lot of boiled-and-chilled water to stay hydrated.

*Stay indoors and take ample rest.

*Keep yourself isolated and avoid close contact with family members, as this infection is likely to spread from person to person.

Do not scratch the blisters as it may spread the infection.

Last but not least, maintain hygiene.

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WE RUN AT THE MOST ENERGY-EFFICIENT SPEED

Be it a race during your sports day or a marathon held in your city, a common goal that most runners have is to keep getting faster. A study published in the journal Current Biology late in April 2022, however, suggests that speeding up might require defying our natural biology.

A research group consisting of scientists from Queens University in Ontario and Stanford University in California have been studying the mechanics of running in labs for 15 years. They were able to combine their lab data with data obtained from runners running in the wild.

Conserve caloric loss

For data of runners running in the wild, the scientists accessed 37,000 runs that were recorded on wearable fitness trackers. The combined data helped scientists find out that humans' natural tendency is to run at such a speed that conserves caloric loss.

The researchers were surprised at the consistency that they found across the combined data sets. As opposed to the popular assumption that people run faster for short distances and would slow down for longer distances, the scientists were able to show that most runners who were analysed maintained the same speed, irrespective of the distance they ran for a particular activity.

Reasons for running have changed

 While this technique makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, it does not in the modern world. Caloric conservation and running at a speed that uses the least amount of energy would have greatly helped our hunter-gatherer ancestors. With the link between running and survival diminishing, the reasons for running have changed dramatically in today's world.

Even though the goal of running faster defies our natural biology, it is still achievable. Picking faster running partners gives a boost to your own running speed. Even when running alone, listening to music with faster pace speeds up stride frequency, which in turn leads to increased running speed.

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